Firemen fighting a house blaze at Doggett Road, Catford, south London, in the early morning of Friday, April 22nd, 1972, discovered the body of a man in an upstairs bedroom. He was identified as Maxwell Confait, 26, a homosexual prostitute and transvestite who preferred to be called Michelle, and who was well known in the gay community of south London. He had been strangled.

Confait’s landlord, living in the same house, was Winston Goode, a married West Indian who shared Confait’s penchant for wearing women’s clothes. He was awakened by the sound of the fire and gave the alarm. Goode was questioned by the police and then, some days later, was admitted to Bexley Psychiatric Hospital, unable to remember the traumatic events of the fire.

On April 25th three youths were charged with Confait’s murder. In May the murder charge against one of the three was dropped and he was bailed on an arson charge.

All three had reason to be confident about the outcome. Medical evidence stated that Confait died between 6.30 and 10.30 on the Friday evening of the fire and the three youths all had unrelated alibis for this period.

Then things changed. The prosecution’s medical experts now said that Confait could have died as late as

1 a.m. This turned the case on its head and sapped the defendants of their initial confidence. After three and a half hours’ retirement the jury came back with verdicts against them.

One was found guilty of manslaughter and also guilty of arson and was ordered to be detained under the Mental Health Act. A second was found guilty of murder and arson and burglary and given life. The third was found guilty of arson and burglary and sentenced to four years.

The National Council for Civil Liberties engaged Professor Donald Teare to examine the case on behalf of the three youths. He was convinced that Maxwell Confait died between 6.30 and 10.30 in the evening. A new dimension to the case occurred when Winston Goode, the first suspect in the case, committed suicide by swallowing cyanide.

A campaign began and in the spring of 1974 the case was unofficially examined by Lord Chief Justice Widgery. On his recommendation it was sent back to the Appeal Court and in October the court exonerated all three defendants from involvement in the death of Maxwell Confait and they were immediately freed.

In his judgment, Lord Justice Scarman suggested that as there was no sign of a struggle Confait must have known his killer. The judge said he had known of cases where half-strangling was used as a stimulus for the homosexual act. Was Maxwell Confait killed by a lover in a tragic accident?